A Question for the Readers #13: Out of Order

When a series runs for a long enough time, it’s only natural to want to experience the highlights first. After all, time is always of the essence, and it’s better to spend it with the provably good installments than by experiencing the low points. However, you may have experienced an instance in which you were so impressed with a particular installment that you wanted to see the rest of what a series had to offer – for good or for ill. As such, your point of ingress may not necessarily have been with the series’ inaugural installment. So the next logical question is: where do you go from there?

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100th Review Special, Part 8: The Elite Eights

I have to admit that between the three colors I use, the green tiers are the ones for which my process of assigning grades is the least scientific. When I was developing my rating system, I wanted to make it clear to readers that a game really has to go the extra mile to earn an 8/10 or higher so as not to devalue the highest grades. Admittedly, it does come down to gut feelings to a greater extent than when I’m entertaining the idea of assigning a red or yellow score. For games I’ve awarded an 8/10, there might be a few minor issues present, but they’re easy to overlook in favor of appreciating what they do well. These are games you should give high priority should they end up on your backlog.

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100th Review Special, Part 6: Smooth Sailing from Here

Finally, a tape collection I can get behind! I hope The Fullbright Company is taking notes.

We are now in the second half of my 100th review special! A 6/10 isn’t a terrible grade on my scale. It means that I have reservations recommending the game in question, but it ultimately does more right than wrong. Furthermore, as per my rules, a 6/10 is the highest grade a game with a weak ending can receive. A few of the following entries are indeed titles that would otherwise deserve to be on higher tiers. I feel not enough creators realize how important it is to stick the landing. After all, the ending is the last impression you have a work; if it’s bad, it almost doesn’t matter if the material leading up to it was good. Rest assured, from this point onward, we’ll be discussing games that are worth a try.

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100th Review Special, Part 5: Middle of the Road

Funnily enough, the conclusion of this particular post will take us to the exact halfway point of my list. It’s fitting because a 5/10 signifies that I could go either way when asked if I recommend a game. In the end, I feel that whether or not the reader should check any of the following games is a decision they themselves must make. They have a lot of qualities worth praising, yet you have to wade through a lot of annoyance before their true value begins to shine.

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Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Introduction

Along with Bloodborne, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4 proved to be one of the killer apps of its platform. As with the previous entries, it received nearly universal critical acclaim as a storytelling experience that far surpassed those of its peers. This caused many gaming enthusiasts to buy a PlayStation 4 for themselves in a parallel to how Uncharted 2 caused people to gravitate towards the PlayStation 3 in the previous console generation. Uncharted 4 was advertised as the series’ finale, as it gave its central protagonist, Nathan Drake, a conclusive sendoff.

However, shortly after the game was released in May of 2016, Naughty Dog began working on a new campaign within the same universe. Though many ideas were thrown out, Naughty Dog ultimately cast Chloe Frazer, a side character who debuted in Uncharted 2, as the lead. This campaign was billed as downloadable content for Uncharted 4, though it ultimately got a standalone, physical release when it debuted in August of 2017. This game, titled Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, didn’t exactly garner the same level of critical acclaim as Uncharted 4, with some outlets criticizing its lack of innovation and short length. The decision to continue a series after promising the previous installment would conclude it is a tricky proposition. Considering that mainstays such as Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley had little input for this game, it would indeed appear to be a recipe for stagnation. Was this new team able to do this critically venerable series justice?

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Introduction

The PlayStation 3 was widely mocked upon its release, but after many critically acclaimed games found their home in its library, Sony regained much of the market share they had lost to their competitors. One of the developers that helped draw newcomers to Sony’s console was Naughty Dog. With their trilogy of Uncharted games, they received a level of critical praise few other artists could claim to match. In 2013, they followed up this success with The Last of Us, which in many circles, managed to surpass their previous efforts in terms of artistic merits. These four games were widely believed to possess the best of both words; not only did they boast the cutting edge of 3D technology, the voice actors brought their characters to life when their peers in the AAA industry struggled to do the same.

The Last of Us is popularly considered to have been the seventh console generation’s swansong, and the within same year of its release, the gaming world saw the debut of the PlayStation 4 in North America and PAL regions. Much like the PlayStation 3 before it, the PlayStation 4 faced something of a backlash when it launched. Though gaming fans marveled at the superior processing power of this machine, there was a major point of contention regarding its lack of backwards compatibility with any previous PlayStation console. Naturally, fans weren’t enthralled with the idea of purchasing a console incapable playing the games they had amassed, so the savvy ones saved their money. It was clear like any successful console before it that the PlayStation 4 would need a sizable selection of exclusive games in order for the average consumer to consider it a good return on investment.

In November of 2013, Naughty Dog announced their newest project: the fourth installment of their Uncharted series. Series writer Amy Hennig was to make a return and serve as its creative director working alongside Justin Richmond. However, Ms. Hennig and Mr. Richmond left the company during the game’s development in March of 2014. These sudden departures led to some speculation within the gaming community, spurred by an IGN article suggesting that Ms. Hennig was forced out by Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, the directors of The Last of Us. Naughty Dog’s co-presidents, Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra, released an official statement, clarifying that neither of them were involved in Ms. Hennig’s departure while proscribing the article as “unprofessional” and “hurtful”.

In June of 2014, the co-presidents requested Mr. Druckmann and Mr. Straley to lead the game’s development. It was during the E3 conference of the same year that Naughty Dog formally unveiled the project under the name Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Examining the promotional materials caused some fans to suspect the series was to take a darker turn, though in a 2014 interview, Mr. Druckmann assured them that the story would be different while still retaining its charm. The sudden change in personnel caused no shortage of problems. Plot ideas and eight months of shooting were left on the proverbial cutting room floor and the voice actor for a central character had to be recast. Consequently, the project was plagued with numerous delays. It was slated to for a late-2015 release before getting pushed back multiple times within 2016. Uncharted 4 at last saw its debut in May of 2016. Like their previous four console efforts, it became a critical and commercial success, and it was considered one of the finest titles for the PlayStation 4. The subtitle this game bears does not belie its status as the series’ grand finale. Was Naughty Dog able help make the PlayStation 4 a viable platform while also giving their most lauded franchise a proper sendoff?

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Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Introduction

Naughty Dog’s 2009 effort, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, received glowing reviews from nearly every major gaming publication upon its release. It wasn’t just a critical darling; Naughty Dog soon found themselves with a fanbase that utterly eclipsed the ones for their earlier games in terms of sheer numbers. It was largely due to exclusive titles such as Uncharted 2 that the PlayStation 3, which originally had been widely ridiculed, began taking back much of the ground it lost to the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in the seventh generation of video game consoles.

There was only one logical reaction to this overwhelming success and torrent of critical accolades: make a sequel. The game was formally announced during the Spike Video Game Awards ceremony in December of 2010 with a trailer depicting a table covered in Arabian artifacts. A few days later, a worldwide demo premiered on the American late-night talk show Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. In interviews, creative director Amy Henning stated that she and her team wished to push themselves by setting the next Uncharted installment in a desert region, as elements such as sand, fire, and water are considered “technically difficult to credibly render with animation”.

Naughty Dog spared no expense with their marketing campaign. Spike TV held competitions where the prize was the honor of getting to play the game before the official release date. Two important people, narrative leader Taylor Kurosaki and stunt movement coordinator Mike Mukatis, appeared on an episode of America’s Next Top Model: College Edition wherein contestants acted out a scene from the original Uncharted. Players who purchased certain items from the fast-food restaurant Subway would be granted access to the game’s entire multiplayer mode. By the time of its release in November of 2011, the anticipation for this installment, entitled Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, couldn’t have been higher. Its reception continued Naughty Dog’s winning streak by receiving unanimously positive reviews from critics and fans alike. It’s an impressive feat to be sure, but could Ms. Henning and her team truly live up to the lofty standards set by Uncharted 2?

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Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Introduction

Sony’s PlayStation 3 console met with a lukewarm reception when it was released in 2006. There were several reasons for this – the two biggest sticking points concerned the lack of console-exclusive games upon launch and its initial retail price of $600 USD. It could have made for a handy replacement for one’s PlayStation 2, as the original models boasted backwards compatibility, but the prohibitive amount of money it sold for deterred even the most dedicated fans.

In 2007, Naughty Dog, a company known for making quality games exclusively for Sony’s platforms, released Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The game proved to be one of the console’s first bestsellers, showcasing its potential to any would-be adopters. However, many fans continued to express hesitance, as it would hardly be worth investing hundreds of dollars just to play a single game – no matter how good the press insisted it was.

Nonetheless, it sold enough units to warrant a sequel, the first trailer of which was unveiled in December of 2008. Earlier that year, the highly acclaimed Metal Gear Solid 4 saw its debut as a PlayStation 3 exclusive. As Metal Gear was a long-running IP with an existing, dedicated fanbase this action caused the tide to slowly turn in Sony’s favor, a trend that would continue into the following year after they reduced the price to a more reasonable figure. As a result, the anticipation for this new installment in this up-and-coming Uncharted series was far greater than that of its predecessor. The development period of this game took nearly two years, ending in 2009 with the final product being entitled Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Countless publications awarded Uncharted 2 perfect scores with many critics believing it to be a new landmark in gaming. It was to the point where these accolades found themselves bombastically emblazoned onto the game’s cover. From this, it’s evident that Naughty Dog was proud of their work. Was their effort able to end one of gaming’s finest decades on a triumphant note?

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Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

uncharted-drakes-fortune

Introduction

Much like in the fifth console generation before it, Naughty Dog had much success in the PlayStation 2 era with their Jak & Daxter trilogy of 3D platforming games. Shortly after the release of Jak 3 in 2004, Naughty Dog assembled their most technically proficient staff members and began development of a new project under the codename Big. Meanwhile, Sony was working on their newest console: the PlayStation 3. Rather than continue the Jak & Daxter series on this platform, Naughty Dog opted to create a new franchise to better suit the hardware capabilities, terming the art direction as “stylized realism”. Taking inspiration from pulp magazines and contemporary movies such as Indiana Jones and National Treasure, they sought to create an action adventure game with mystery themes that explore various what-if scenarios.

This project was unveiled to the public in 2006 at the annual gaming exhibition, E3, with the working title, Uncharted. When gaming fans learned of its platforming and shooter elements, they inevitably drew comparisons to Core Design’s Tomb Raider series of action-adventure games that became well-known in the original PlayStation era, eventually earning the nickname “Dude Raider” based on it having a male protagonist. The developers distinguished their game by placing a greater emphasis on a cover-based play mechanic, citing the pioneering third-person shooter, Resident Evil 4, as an influence along with other popular titles. The game saw its official release in 2007 under the name, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Critics and fans alike praised Uncharted for its stunning visuals and entertaining dialogue. As the PlayStation 3 met with a tepid response due to a lack of games, this was one of the exclusive titles that helped turn the tide in their favor along with Metal Gear Solid 4 a year later.  Doubtlessly was it impressive that managed to sell one-million copies before its platform caught on with enthusiasts. How did it accomplish such a feat?

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